Rochester Business Alliance recently joined more than 40 business leaders and organizations from across New York in signing an open letter in support of the Common Core Learning Standards.  Others from the Greater Rochester region who signed the letter include Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Pike Company CEO Thomas Judson, Klein Steel Service Chairman Joe Klein, Finger Lakes Advanced Manufacturers’ Enterprise Chair Mike Mandina, and more.

Over the past three years, the New York State Education Department has worked with teachers and administrators on implementing the Common Core, which has developed standards in K-12 math and English designed to produce college and career-ready students.  45 states and Washington, D.C. have already adopted these standards.  The New York business leaders who signed the open letter recognize the importance of the Common Core to New York’s long-term economic competitiveness.

Simply put, today’s students are our workforce of tomorrow.  It’s a drum that I’ve been beating for so long.  Upstate New York is not an area that gets a heavy influx of people from other parts of the country.  That’s why it’s critical to grow our own workforce.  If the public education system is failing like we’ve seen here in Rochester, it’s failing our future workers.  New York has been a highly-regulated high-cost state in which to do business in for decades.  The one ace in the hole that we have always had is our highly skilled and trained workforce.  If we run the potential of losing that, we’re really going to be in deep trouble.  The Common Core can help.

Here’s an excerpt from the open letter:

“As business leaders, we believe that all New York’s children have a right to an education that prepares them to be successful in a competitive global economy. We also understand that in order to compete in a knowledge-based economy, we must improve the academic performance of our students. Our state is once again at a critical place in our quest for educational excellence, and the need for a strong employer voice is greater than ever. New York’s business leaders can make a positive difference for schools, students, and our state’s future if we join together and share our expectations for education and our support for the people and institutions that move education reform forward.”

The Common Core sets more rigorous standards.  It is designed to promote more analytical thinking and more problem-solving.  That focuses on some of the traits that employers need in the economy of today and the future.  It puts a stake in the ground for upping the standards by which our children are measured.  Yes, like with any major change, this effort to improve student achievement requires hard work on the part of several stakeholders including educators, parents, and even students themselves.  This has led some to urge New York to slow down or drop altogether the implementation of the Common Core.  Business leaders know the challenges of operating in changing environments.  That’s why the need to move forward with the Common Core is now more important than ever.

The open letter came about because State Education Commissioner John King realizes the importance of good education for economic development and reached out to business organizations in the state to support the Common Core.

During a recent visit to talk with Rochester Business Alliance members, King said, “We know that if we can get better college and career readiness in our K through 12 system, we can get better as a state in terms of economic development.  The question is, how do we tackle the gap between our expectations in K through 12 and the expectations of college and careers? If we can tackle that gap it can make a huge economic difference for our state and our country.  Adding just one percentage point to the college attainment rate of adults in New York would add $17.5 billion in economic activity.”

At a meeting this month with me and other business leaders who work with city schools, Rochester City School District Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said he’s confident that students will rise to the rigor of the new standards.  Under his leadership, the district is making major changes to improve both the quantity and quality of instruction. On the quantity side, 20 of the District’s 60 schools have extended learning time, and all have discontinued the 50-year practice of dismissing students early on Wednesdays. Instructional quality is driven through training, materials, and in-school coaches who help teachers implement the Common Core curriculum.  The new Annual Professional Performance Review ratings also evaluate teacher performance in a fair, consistent way.

Superintendent Vargas, Commissioner King, and Rochester Business Alliance encourage businesses to support the Common Core while at the same time making a difference by partnering directly with schools to help students prepare for college and careers.  There are plenty of ways that employers can get involved, from mentoring a single student, to lending expertise, to offering internships after school.

Generating success in city schools really is everyone’s responsibility.  It’s important for our government and business leaders as well as parents at home to support efforts to improve the academic performance of today’s students, our future workforce.